1990 Subaru Legacy

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$2,946
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chicagotribune.com
Funny how attractive a Subaru becomes when the vehicle is hidden under 12 inches of snow and you have to shovel down the walk and driveway to get to it. That`s what happened to us last week, when the snow that had been absentmost of the winter fell on the northern suburbs all at once.

The Subaru Legacy we were testing is no styling masterpiece, a nothing-out-of-the-ordinary compact four-door sedan. But it looked as good as aLamborghini Countach when the last foot of snow was wiped away to reveal thedecklid nameplate reading ``4WD.``

Though some were busy phoning work to beg off, or the hardy were on thehighways slipping and sliding into and away from each intersection and cussingthemselves for passing up antilock brakes, we sat in the driver`s seat, turnedon the key, waited while the shoulder harness motored along the door rail tofasten itself about our upper torso and then drove to work.

Late? Sure, a bit. A four-wheel-drive machine gives you an insurancepolicy that you`ll make it through, but you still have to put up with thevehicles crawling along in two-wheel-drive mode. Still, there`s more security in crawling behind a two-wheel drive machine than in crawling down the roadwayin one.

Legacy represents Subaru`s move up in size to compacts from subcompactsonly. If you want smaller, there`s Loyale. Legacy and Loyale also representSubaru`s break from numerical and letter designations for its cars, such asthe GL 10 or DL 10, which was confusing and made it easier to go out and buy aToyota to avoid the hassle. For the switch to names alone, we doff the cap to Subaru.

Legacy is built on a 101.6-inch wheelbase and is 177.6 inches long;Loyale is on a 97-inch wheelbase and 174.6 inches long.

The four-wheel-drive Legacy L four-door sedan we drove was powered by a2.2-liter, 16-valve, 4-cylinder developing a healthy 130 horsepower. A five-speed is standard, a four-speed automatic optional. Our car had theautomatic.

Though the 2.2 has some kick, 0-to-60-mile-an-hour performance isn`t therole the four-wheel-drive Legacy was designed to play. A turbo Legacy willappear this fall as the performance model.

The four-wheel-drive Legacy is an alternative to utility vehicles forthose who can`t handle the size or looks or price of a Bronco, Blazer or Jeep. Antilock brakes are a $1,095 option on four-wheel-drive L or LS models.That`s a hefty chunk of change, but how many other compact cars even offerantilock brakes? Typically the system is reserved for mid- and full-size cars. In addition to breaking with traditional Subaru size and nomenclature,the Legacy resolves another gripe we`ve long had with the Japanese car line.Subarus typically were narrow-bodied and cramped. A trip longer than a fewblocks was torture as you struggled for arm and shoulder room.

The Legacy interior holds two adults front or rear without elbowspenetrating each other`s sides. It will hold the small family comfortably withample trunk room for groceries or luggage. And with four-wheel-drive, theroads don`t have to be clear for it to function.

There are a couple drawbacks, however. The EPA mileage rating withstandard five-speed is 22 miles per gallon city/27 m.p.g. highway. Withautomatic, as in the test car, it`s 20/26. The movement of the needle seemedto indicate that 20/26 would have been tough to meet.

Of course, you don`t worry about an EPA rating when there are 12 inchesof snow on the ground, but there aren`t that many days in a year in theChicago area when 12 inches of snow are the norm.

The other problem is that the four-wheel-drive Legacy L starts at $13,699 with manual, $14,449 with automatic. By comparison, a four-wheel-drive FordTempo starts at $11,331, a $2,000 to $3,000 savings.

The test car added air conditioning, cruise control and an upgraded AM/FM stereo with cassette in a $995 package, about all the options you need o r are offered.

Standard equipment includes power brakes and steering, all-season tires,tinted glass, bodyside moldings, power windows/door locks, digital clock, dualremote control mirrors, intermittent wipers, tilt steering and, our favorite, retractable cup holders.

Legacy production is getting underway at the joint venture Fuji (Subaru)/ Isuzu plant in LaFayette, Ind., where annual output is slated to be 60,000units a year. Subaru said it will continue to import Legacy from Japan evenwhen the plant is up to full output in anticipation of annual sales of 80,000 units.

First review: 07/30/89
The Honda Accord has some competition from an unlikely source: Subaru and its new compact Legacy.

Subaru until now has focused on subcompacts. Legacy is the first compactfrom Subaru, and a vehicle designed to help resolve the myriad problems theJapanese automaker has faced in the last several years.

For example:

- Though the name is well known, Subaru vehicles have been high-mileagecars that didn`t look very good, performed sluggishly, and were cramped anduncomfortable. The redeeming value was that the cars could be purchased infront-wheel or four-wheel-drive versions or both, for those in the Snow Belt. - In addition to mediocre products, the confusing Subaru nomenclatureled to an identity problem. Vehicles were referred to as GLs and DLs with ablur as to what distinguished one from another.

- Subaru led the industry in one category: It sold more imported stationwagons than anyone else, one of the least significant claims an automakercould make.

- When consumers outgrew the DL or GL, they had no larger car in theSubaru line to move to; so many turned to a Honda Accord or Toyota Camry orMazda 626.

- The rising value of the Japanese yen against the dollar forced sharpprice increases that further eroded sales. In calendar 1988, Subaru salestotaled 160,414 units, down from 177,138 in 1987.

Subaru has been trying to resolve its troubles. A couple of new productshave helped. The XT-6 two-seat sports model was a break from Subaru`sstodginess, though the XT-6 is a lot longer on looks than on performance.

Then there`s the Justy, one of the best mini-cars on the market, thoughSubaru has done so little to promote it that more people know of the bag ofbolts called Yugo than the top-rated Justy.

To rectify the trouble over names, the subcompacts are now called Loyale, rather than GL or DL. The lineup makes sense. Justy is the entry-level,smallest offering; Loyale the stepup subcompact; XT-6 the sports model; andLegacy the luxury compact and biggest in the stable.

With the `90 Legacy that went on sale in April, Subaru is aiming for aturnaround.

With good room and comfort, decent ride and handling, more thanrespectable performance and a little above and beyond the call technology suchas full-time four-wheel drive, Legacy is off to a good start. It givespotential Accord, Camry or 626 buyers another alternative.

But Accord, Camry and the 626 have proven reliability and dependability;Legacy will have to earn that.

Subaru long has been known as the company that offers front-wheel drivein everything and four-wheel drive in just about all its vehicles. Legacy isno exception. It`s offered in base, L and LS versions in four-door sedan orwagon with front-wheel or four-wheel drive and 5-speed manual or 4-speedautomatic transmission. All possible combinations are covered except a two-door coupe, which will be added in one year.

We test drove the Legacy LS four-door sedan with full-time four-wheeldrive and optional automatic transmission.

Legacy is built on a 101.6-inch wheelbase and is 177.6 inches long. Forcomparison, the Accord has a 102.4-inch wheelbase and is 179.7 inches long.Front or rear, room is abundant. Seats are wide, well padded and verycomfortable. Trunk room is almost station wagon-like.

One shortcoming is styling and a rather bland exterior. Accord won`t make your eyes bulge either, but Legacy is overly sedate. Our test car was insnooze gray; or was it boring brown?

Power is supplied by a 2.2-liter, 16-valve, 130-horsepower, 4-cylinderengine, which brings up another shortcoming in the Legacy. There`s no trouble moving from the light and plenty of pep when you roll down the ramp to merge, but those 130 horses seem to spend all their energy getting up to 55 miles an hour and then lay back and rest. You get that feeling the first time you pull out to pass.

There`s no complaint about ride and handling. The ride is firm withoutbeing harsh, and handling is surefooted with minimum sway or roll. You cantake a tight corner without the front-seat passenger becoming riveted onto hisor her door, and you can hit a bump without your head kissing the roof. Four- wheel independent air suspension helps, along with front and rearstabilizer bars and a quick-to-respond power steering system.

Four-wheel drive is a great insurance policy, not just for Snow Beltwinters, but for springtime rains anywhere. The beauty of the system is thatit`s full-time; there are no hubs to lock or transfer cases to fool with. And unlike four-wheel drive in some cars, you don`t feel any added weight in thewheel to burden steering response. To enhance the four-wheel-drive system,all-season steel-belted radial tires are standard.

Four-wheel power disc brakes are standard and antilock brakes are a$1,095 option with automatic transmission only. Antilock brakes will beoffered with manual starting this fall. Antilock brakes are a costly optionbut well worth the investment in terms of safety and your ability to stop in astraight line regardless of road conditions.

The Legacy front-wheel-drive sedan has an EPA rating of 21 miles pergallon city/28 m.p.g. highway with automatic. The sedan with four-wheel-drive is rated at 20/26, so the mileage loss with all wheels working at the sametime is minimal. And 20/26 isn`t too shabby.

Standard equipment in the LS also is impressive. It includes airconditioning, tinted glass, power windows and door locks, digital clock, dual remote rear-view mirrors, AM-FM stereo with cassette, intermittent wipers,tilt steering wheel (it tilts all the way up or all the way down without ahappy medium), electric sunroof, cruise control, split and folding rear seatbacks, rear window defogger, retractable drink holder and automatic seat beltsthat fasten around upper torso when the key is turned on.

The four-wheel-drive LS sedan starts at $16,499 with 5-speed, $17,249with automatic.

For now Legacy is built only in Japan. Starting in September, Legacy will be cranked out of Subaru`s new joint-venture plant with Isuzu in Lafayette,Ind. Isuzu will build a pickup truck there.

Until the plant reaches capacity of 120,000 units annually u nder Phase I(60,000 each to Isuzu and Subaru), the automaker will continue to importsome Legacies.

Subaru said Phase II expansion at Lafayette gets underway in another year to boost plant output to 240,000 vehicles a year-120,000 for each partner.

There`s talk of adding more than Legacy once Phase II gets underway, with speculation centering on the Legacy coupe, the XT-6 coupe and a mini-van

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